Made in the Alliance

How to Shore up the Foundations of Transatlantic Solidarity

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has reinvigorated the Western alliance and bolstered transatlantic solidarity. After being declared “brain dead” by French President Emmanuel Macron in 2019, NATO has sprung to life, deploying forces to its eastern flank and coordinating the provision of sophisticated weapons that have helped Ukraine impede Russia’s invasion. For the first time in its history, the European Union has financed the purchase and delivery of lethal aid. Western countries have vastly exceeded expectations in implementing coordinated financial sanctions that have crippled Russia’s economy. Even neutral Switzerland joined the fray.

But no matter how remarkable this solidarity may be in the short term, there is no guarantee that it will last: if policymakers are complacent, powerful trends predating the Ukraine crisis could overwhelm and ultimately derail it. Protectionist sentiment and self-defeating trade wars have pulled at the seams of Western economic integration. Former U.S. President Donald Trump’s threats to pull out of NATO and the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 have chipped away at military trust between the United States and Europe. A Marine Le Pen victory later this month in France would pose additional challenges to the alliance, and looming concerns about the 2024 presidential election raise doubts about the United States’ commitment.

If not managed intelligently, the reawakening of Europe as a diplomatic and military actor and the reexamination of global economic interdependence catalyzed by Russia’s invasion could result not in a strengthened transatlantic alliance but in a more worrying outcome: the emergence of three distinct blocs, one centered around the United States, a second around Europe, and a third around China (which would include Russia). Such a world—with the United States and Europe often collaborating, but also at odds when their interests diverge—would make the management of China and Russia more difficult, as the two would have opportunities to trigger and exploit U.S.-European tensions. It would also represent a major missed opportunity for the United States and Europe.

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